Take a break to volunteer

Community Compass is Concordia’s new experiential learning program

Concordia University has introduced a new community-based experiential learning program called Community Compass. The program allows Concordia students to sign up with  organizations that partnered with the university to volunteer during reading week.

Through various organizations in Montreal, students can register for four and a half days, or they can choose to volunteer for five days at Camp Kinkora in the Laurentians. Partner organizations include StopGap, a foundation that builds ramps to improve wheelchair accessibility around the city and Santropol Roulant, a community food hub in Plateau Mont-Royal, among many others.

As of Monday morning, 59 people were registered in the program. Alex Oster, the coordinator of student engagement at the Dean of Students office, said Community Compass will increase the number of partnering organizations, given its success this year.

Manager of Resident Life, Rich Swaminathan, set up the program, which was assessed and reinvented by Oster.

Community Compass is a new version of the Alternative Spring Break program from 2009-10, according to Oster. He said the program is “reimagined, to better align with students’ capacity mid-semester.” After seeing a decline in the registration for the Alternative Spring Break program in the last three years, Oster said the university conducted an assessment of the program’s strengths and weaknesses to create a new one that better accommodates the students.

Oster said that, for now, Community Compass will be focusing on the reading week program, however, it can also be used as a resource for students who want to get involved in their community, throughout the year.

Students who register for the program are automatically accepted, but there is limited availability per organization. “We’ve focused on making it as accessible as possible,” said Oster. “We want the program to be the first step into a lifestyle of volunteering and civic engagement.”

The program’s aim is to teach students about some of the critical social and economic issues in the Montreal community, according to Oster, whether it’s homelessness, a lack of accessibility or food poverty. “For example, students helping the StopGap foundation here in Montreal can help build and install ramps for single-stair entrances,” said Oster. “Many of us who are able-bodied don’t even notice this tiny step that prevents a wheelchair user from entering a public space.” He added, “It is an incredible chance to serve others.”

The reading week program’s option in the Laurentians is financed by the George and Helen Coward Endowment. The fund was created when the late Kenneth Coward made a donation to engage students in critical thinking and personal reflection to enrich their academic experience and foster civic responsibility, according to Oster.

Camp Kinkora is a foundation that offers camp experiences for community groups, especially marginalized and underprivileged groups. Oster said “they host an LGBTQ youth camp, for example.” Student volunteers help the Camp Kinkora crew prepare their facilities for their busy spring and summer seasons.

Find more information on Concordia’s website.

Graphic by @spooky_soda.

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